This past winter break, I spent a week’s vacation at a jungle lodge in Belize. The trip included tubing, ziplining, waterfall climbing, hiking in the rainforest, exploring caves and other adventures. The one thing it didn’t include, however, was the technology that typically dominates our daily lives.
Situated in the heart of the rainforest, the lodge had no WiFi, no television and a single desktop computer to be shared among over 100 guests. Anyone who was lucky enough to happen upon the computer while it was available then had to deal with the painfully slow internet speed that made visiting even a single web page an unworthy hassle.
Because US-based cellphone companies have not established service in this Central American country, roaming charges would have equated to a ludicrous amount of around $8 per email. As a result, my iPhone served as little more than a camera and timepiece for the week.
My time spent away from technology was certainly eye opening, though not in the way that many would imagine. Those who spend time away from information technology—which, at BC, is most often on retreats or service trips—generally report feeling “refreshed” or happy to have been “fully engaged” in their activities. Yet, removed from the coerced interpersonal connection of such programs, I had very different feelings. To summarize in one word: bored.
I’d like to make an important distinction here. The daily adventures on this trip were truly unforgettable, and being distracted by the constant buzzing of Facebook and GroupMe would have certainly detracted from the experience, as well as made the activities even more dangerous than they already were. However, every night I was forced to spend a few hours alone, given that the lodge essentially shut down after dinner, and my dad’s nightly ritual of falling asleep at 8:30 p.m.
At home, this time could be spent chatting with friends, catching up on the news, or reading articles online. With no Internet connection, I instead had the option of reading the one book I had packed or sitting alone with my thoughts.
It would be nice for me to be able to say that this time spent alone led me to some major revelation about solidarity, or the omnipresence of technology, but it didn’t. Yet, I also can’t say that I found myself constantly craving information, or obsessively checking my phone for notifications I knew weren’t coming. The lack of communication was, effectively, a non-experience.
On the other hand, access to technology can be an enriching experience. We often take for granted the power we have to communicate with anyone—friend, stranger or anything in between—instantly, or the opportunity to be informed of anything happening in the world in real time. Though we often do not recognize this amazing opportunity as we idly scroll through the same unoriginal posts on Twitter and Instagram, our free time can be filled with dynamic information at the touch of a button (or a touchscreen).
I am certainly not advocating the substitution of social media for social interaction. As I mentioned earlier, engaging in technology distracts us from the people and experiences surrounding us, of which there is generally no shortage in college. However, there is nothing wrong with augmenting idle time with something more engaging than our own thoughts.